ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY
Ian Dean discovers why choice matters, on sea and land, in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
The game’s creative director explains why choice matters.
For the most part, until now you’ve always known where you are with a new Assassin’s Creed. Even when Ubisoft flipped the world on us and made Haytham Kenway the initial protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III, things eventually fell into their stabby places. There are always Templars to kill, the world to put into order, and, if you have the time, a whole bunch of shiny things to collect. With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey all the usual things are pushed to one side. There are no Templars to knife in the back because they don’t exist, and neither do the Assassins. The world is a blank slate and, to a degree, as a mercenary with few allegiances, you can decide its fate.
It’s the reason Ubisoft Québec, the development studio behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, chose to wind the clock right back to before the founding of the Assassins club when making Origins. “We went back because we wanted to put choice in the game, so we went backwards to where you don’t have that traditional Assassin’s code to play by, because it doesn’t exist,” clarifies Jonathan Dumont, creative director on Odyssey. “You’re now in a place where you’re making choices based on your own moral code and that can lead you in some interesting directions.”
SEA THE SIGHTS
Your compass, moral or real, will ultimately lead you to the Aegean Sea, and your choice of companions will be just as important as the direction you sail in. You have four slots in the ship’s crew menu, where you can add new recruits. These can be anyone, as Dumont tells us “most NPCs in the game are recruitable”. The choice of who to conscript, and when, is down to you. Anyone succumbing to your charms (or a sharp blow to head) will add value to your ship, the Adrestia. “They come with unique bonuses that can affect your ship,” says Dumont, who explains new crew members can improve armour or refresh rates of attacks, such as flurries of fiery arrows. The rarity of NPCs affects the bonuses they offer, so hard-tofind or tough-to-defeat characters – some will need to be won over in combat or in conversation – will come with more valuable attributes.
“You can scout with your eagle [called Ikaros] and see NPCs’ stats, then you can go in and knock them out – you have special moves for knocking out people – and then you can recruit them,” explains Dumont.
You’ll want to maintain a good crew because you only have one ship in the game. Just like in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, where you could develop your galleon, in Odyssey your two-tiered bireme can be upgraded, remodelled, and customised. There’s nothing unusual, but adding new sails or ramming devices improves manoeuvrability and attack prowess. If you want to keep your press-ganged crew happy, then there’s also the option to unlock or buy new outfits.
Unlike in Origins sailing here is a full-time occupation, and once you’ve completed the mission that introduces you to the Adrestia and its captain, Barnabas, you’re free to head anywhere you please. Dumont tells us you can call on the Adrestia from any docking point in the game, and once on board you have access
“YOU DON’T HAVE THE TRADITIONAL ASSASSIN’S CODE TO PLAY BY, BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST.”
to Bounties, unique missions and special contracts.
Dumont details how Odyssey’s ship-play is akin to a blend of both Origins’ and Black Flag’s approach to naval combat. “We focus on exploration like in Black Flag – you can jump off at any point and go diving – but we also focus on the action of Origins.”
In-game this means there’s a nod to the close-quarter fights of Black Flag, as well as the tight design of Origins, with flaming arrow barrages and ramming… “I’d say it’s more fastpaced than Origins, and ramming is the main thing now. When you get this right it has dramatic consequences [rival ships splinter in half]. In fact, we had to completely redo this whole portion of the game since Origins.”
Ultimately this aspect of Odyssey is less a naval game like Origins and more a way to investigate the world, to island-hop at your leisure and track down treasures – their hiding places are scribbled onto maps bought or found in the game. You can even jump ship at any moment to explore shipwrecks, sunken temples, and maze-like caves.
“Down below the sea are shipwrecks and temples. If you dive down you can see sharks [as well as dolphins and whales]. The caves have multiple states so you’ll be able to surface in air pockets to take a breath before continuing on. And remember these are unexplored, so anything can be down there…”
Anything, like a Kraken? Dumont falls silent, but he does share how the myths of Ancient Greece will seep into the game. “Medusa makes up the First Civilisation part of our game,” explains the dev. “It’s a part of the world that affects how people think, these mythical creatures could exist, the people in the world certainly think they do, but maybe there’s another reason. You could head over to an island and everyone believes there’s a creature there, but maybe it’s something else.”
The game is littered with references to, and possibly even physical manifestations of, those classic creatures, and an expert in Greek history is embedded with the team to ensure the tales are treated accurately. “We’re inspired by the classic Greek myths and legends; Odysseus is definitely an influence,” Dumont tells us. He teases, you may not be able to trust your eyes: “The game is accurate, and myths are myths, but you know, maybe we go off on our own and have some fun with them.”
It all ties into how this Assassin’s Creed is treating the First Civilisation aspect of the game. “We’re going deeper into this aspect of our franchise,” expresses Dumont, the suggestion being the powerful relics scattered through ancient Greece are having an influence on the people who come into contact with them. The mythical creatures we’ve come to love are here, but not what we’d expect them to be. It’s yet another example of how Odyssey is playing with the franchise as much as with history, placing question marks where there should be exclamations, giving us the power to interpret and make decisions about the world we’re playing within.
HIS MASTER’S CHOICE
This brings us neatly back to the idea of ‘choice’. Odyssey introduces the ability to affect the game in real ways, including the ending you’ll eventually see. Decision-making plays through the entire game. It’s most evident in conversations where you can side with characters, choose combat strategies, or romance characters – every time you do it affects your relationships with everyone else in the game. (There’s over 30 hours of recorded dialogue in Odyssey, so that’s a lot of choiceled chit-chat.) You’ll earn a reputation – good or bad –with some characters, and they’ll remember how you treated them, “not in a ‘stats in a menu’ way, but in a subtler way,” qualifies Dumont, explaining you’ll have the option sometimes to recoup things you say to get an antagonistic character back on your side.
Most choices are permanent, though, “but we want to emphasise there’s no bad choices,” interjects Dumont. “But we do focus down on that whole epic Greek tragedy aspect to the game, so while there’s no bad
“ODYSSEY’S SHIP-PLAY IS AKIN TO A BLEND OF ORIGINS’ AND BLACK FLAG’S APPROACH TO NAVAL COMBAT.”
choices, bad things will happen based on what you decide.”
There are always consequences to your choices. Sometimes this can be subtle, but even when this is the case the dev explains how the game will let you know, how it’ll foreshadow how your decision will impact events. “For example,” says Dumont, “in one quest we give you the option to lie. You’re sent on a quest to find a sword, you come back and the NPC asks if you found it, but you quite like it, so you lie and say you never found it and keep the sword. But there will be a consequence to this.”
LOSE YOUR MARBLES?
This sounds like the direction Assassin’s Creed should always have been parkouring towards, but we have concerns: does this mean whole sections of the game could be closed to us based on decisions we make? “No. I want to make it clear, we’re not locking the player out of content […] but you will get additional stages or steps to missions in side-quests,” explains Dumont, nipping choice-led gaming’s Achilles’ heel in the bud.
Your actions can affect the loot rewards earned from quests. Irritating a quest-giver or making life-and-death decisions can impact on the gear you’ll be awarded. We’ve already heard how you can lie to key characters and keep treasures for yourself, but maybe you’ll get something even better down the line if you ’fess up and hand over the coveted quest item.
The main quest line will always remain the same, confirms Dumont, with Alexios/Kassandra’s journey from outcast to revered warrior remaining on a solid trajectory. But when you venture into a side-quest anything is possible. Your decisions can affect the world in real ways.
“I’m not saying you’ll make some choices and then the whole island will be on fire and everyone’s dying,” says Dumont, before adding with a laugh, “although that could happen. But the choices you make can affect who’s on your side, who the leader of a region is – Athenian or Spartan – because you’re a mercenary, you’re on no-one’s side, and these decisions will affect quests and the world. And remember, our world is always in flux, it’s always changing, regions will constantly be changing sides based on who has strength and resources.”
Taken holistically, Odyssey could present an Assassin’s world that’s constantly open to change, one that can shift on a spoken word or sword strike. Regions can shift loyalties, you can influence rulers, and maybe spread or dampen beliefs in mythical creatures. And it’ll all be done on land and sea, with no divisions as to how you explore this open world. It’s set at a time when order and chaos are clashing, the bedrock themes of any Assassin’s game, but you’re not an Assassin. It presents a world of potential, on the cusp of chaos, and your choices affect how far it tips. It leads us to ask how far this freedom of choice can be taken. Can we, for example, choose not to assassinate targets? Can we save lives rather than take them? “Absolutely, you don’t need to kill all of your assassination targets, you decide,” says Dumont. Things really are different this time around.
“A WORLD THAT’S OPEN TO CHANGE, ONE THAT CAN SHIFT ON A SPOKEN WORD OR SWORD STRIKE.”
In Odyssey you have the power to change the game’s world with words and swords.
We’re excited by the possibilities of the ship combat, and being able to go from distant fire-fights to boarding and going hand-to-hand.
Whichever character you play as, you’ll have a wealth of romance options.